COVID-19 · Fresno · Stockton

Valley lawmakers push for school district, parental control over masks and virus rules

Fresno County sent a message to the dozens of school districts in the area: It will not interfere with whatever COVID-19 restrictions are either in place or absent.

The Fresno County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday supporting each school district’s local control over their operations.

“They all have local boards that are put in place by election that represents the parents and the students of each individual district,” Board Chair Steve Brandau said following the meeting. “And we want to honor them by giving them the ability to make their own local decisions and have their own relationship with the State of California and the Public Health Department in the State of California.”

However, the county never really had a place in governing school districts’ operations in the first place. As Brandau mentioned, the California Department of Public Health has handed down the directives throughout the pandemic and continues to do so.

Last Friday, the CDPH changed its guidance to require all students to wear masks, with an exception for those with disabilities or mental health conditions that prevent mask-wearing. 

As in the case of Clovis Unified School District, parents will no longer be allowed to self-attest to medical conditions that their children have to avoid mask wearing. 

Instead, only a physician, nurse practitioner or other licensed medical professional practicing under the license of a physician can issue a medical exemption. 

“Until that clarification from the State of California, we had Clovis Unified that wanted to use parents self-attesting that their children didn’t need to wear a mask in class,” Brandau said. “And now the state has clarified that, so that’s kind of taken that issue off the table. But that’s an example of a certain school district that wanted to follow one strategy, whereas other school districts wanted to do something different.” 

Tuesday’s action by the Board of Supervisors was made in the name of clarity. The board does not want there to be any confusion as to its authority over the school districts. 

One such instance of confusion happened four months ago, Supervisor Nathan Magsig said. Many parents of Clovis Unified students had reached out to him, as they were under the impression that the Board of Supervisors was going to take action in conflict with the CUSD School Board’s desires, leading him to speak at a board meeting. 

“At that particular meeting, I made very clear that really I see my role as a supervisor as being a facilitator for Clovis Unified School District in this case, so out of that, really, that’s what we’re saying here today,” Magsig said. 

“There has been some confusion about what Fresno County’s role is, and as policy makers here, we really believe in local control, and we want to empower those at the local level that are elected to represent our children, represent those different school districts.”

Further north, all but one member of the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution calling on state public health officials to grant school districts and parents greater control to determine mask requirements for in-person instruction.

Board Chairman Tom Patti and Supervisors Chuck Winn, Robert Rickman, and Miguel Villapudua argued that school-based mask mandates from the state stripped parents of their rights to make health decisions for their children.

The lone dissenting voice, Supervisor Kathy Miller, cited feedback from constituents in support of masks in the classroom.

“It’s a small price to pay to keep kids and staff healthy,” she said during Tuesday’s meeting.

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.